Preventing environmental risks through engineering alternatives
 
  By Sonia B. Glover
 
 Just about everyone is familiar with television images of oil-soaked birds  -- usually the aftermath of an oil spill. It's a sight that nobody likes to see, especially Dr. Brian Veitch, who is researching ways to curtail the environmental impact associated in the offshore industry.

 Dr. Veitch holds the Terra Nova Project Chair in Ocean Environmental Risk Engineering at Memorial University. His research involves creating engineering solutions that will either prevent or mitigate environmental risks.

 "There's all sorts of discussion and concern from the general public about potential oil spills or accumulative damage to the environment due to offshore activities," said Dr. Veitch.

 In an interview, Dr. Veitch used oil-soaked birds as an example of a possible consequence of an oil spill, and pointed out that his role in this research program is one of engineering and looking at ways to prevent such tragedies, as opposed to dealing with the consequences.
 
 "With these graphic photos of oil on birds, for example  what we are trying to do is take measures now by developing engineering alternatives that will hopefully prevent these pictures from ever being available in Newfoundland," he said.  "Instead of looking at the effects of oil on birds, which is completely valid and very important, what we are looking at is how to avoid oil spills altogether."
 
 Dr. Veitch said there are many challenges that exist in our offshore industry and one of the challenges that he will be investigating is the safety issue.
 
 "We will also be looking at offshore safety and try to come up with better ways to promote safety, thus saving people's lives."
 
 Dr. Veitch pointed out that in light of Newfoundland's offshore history, the safety aspect of this research program is something that they felt had to be looked at.
 
 "We want to make sure that  people working offshore are safe, particularly in the event of a disaster that would require them to be evacuated, and that they can do so with good chances of survival. We could not undertake this chair without looking at safety issues."
 
 Besides impacting industry as a whole, Dr. Veitch noted that some areas that he'll be looking at could be of specific benefit to oil companies.  He said a lot of money is spent in the oil industry and the old story of getting the "biggest bang for your buck'" applies here as well.
 
 "We'll be looking at the treatment and disposal of things like drilling mud and drilling fluids. The regulations that are in place are strict and it's very expensive to handle things out there; and the more steps involved in handling these materials, the more expensive it gets.
 
 "What we would like to see is  more effective, cheaper ways of handling and disposing of some of these materials like drilling fluids and rock cuttings. So the question is, what kind of alternative methods of treatment and disposal could we come up with that would decrease costs and lessen the environmental impact."
 
 Dr. Veitch said the ocean environmental risk engineering research program is  important not only for Newfoundland's offshore industry, but for others worldwide.
 
 "Besides our growing local industry, there are thousands and thousands of other people working in the offshore that would be affected. My effort is only small, but there are indeed benefits to the industry."
 
 The Terra Nova Project Chair in Ocean Environmental Risk Engineering was recently created with a $250,000 contribution from Terra Nova Development to Memorial's Opportunity Fund. The chair is housed in the Ocean Engineering Research Centre in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.
 



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